LIFE under Owen Coyle’s management at Wigan Athletic was brief and unfulfilling for Shaun Maloney.
A hip injury sustained on Scotland duty led to the former Celtic forward undergoing surgery which sidelined him for seven months. By the time he returned to action, Coyle had been sacked after winning just seven of his 23 matches at the club.
It is just one of the reasons Maloney suggests he may not be the best person to ask about Coyle’s suitability for the current managerial vacancy at Celtic.
“It’s hard for me to answer that,” he said. “I remember working with a really good man at Celtic, someone I thought would be a really good manager for the club. That was Tony Mowbray. Obviously, that didn’t work out.When I played for Tony, I liked him as a person and his style of football. So I’m not sure if I could say who would be good for the Celtic job or not.
“It’s a really intense job. It’s a difficult time for Scottish football, with the challenges Celtic have and the necessity of getting to the Champions League. It is still a pretty demanding place to work, even if the challenge in the domestic league is different.
“I wasn’t actually at the club when Owen lost his job at Wigan, because I was in America recovering from the surgery on my hip. I didn’t play that much for him, only about five games before I had to get the injury sorted. He definitely tried to cultivate a really good relationship with the players – that was his biggest idea at Wigan. That’s the way he tries to manage a club. His assistant, Sandy Stewart, did the bulk of the coaching, that’s the way it worked.
“In fairness, it was difficult for him when he came in because we had a very different style of manager (Roberto Martinez) and style of football before him that the club had been used to for four years. We had just been relegated and lost some of our best players – and I think he had to sign a lot as well, so it wasn’t the easiest start he had. It was a tough job for him.”
Coyle remains among the bookies’ favourites for the Celtic job and Maloney does not believe his unsuccessful stints at both Wigan and Bolton should be viewed as evidence he has lost the capabilities which made him such a highly-regarded managerial property at St Johnstone and Burnley.
“I wouldn’t describe him as damaged goods,” added Maloney. “I think that is a harsh phrase to use. I couldn’t tell you the ins and outs, but I think he was close to getting the Celtic job when he was at Burnley and that’s probably the reason why he’s mentioned again with the manager changing. A list comes out right away and the odds change every day.
“It’s a difficult one for Owen, with him losing his job at our place and at Bolton before that. I can see why there are questions about him for some people. But it’s harsh to try and judge someone before they even get the job. That’s just football. It’s the same with players. It’s a results business and that’s fine. You know when you go into management that if you win games, you will be fine.
“Owen had a brilliant reputation at Burnley and got the Bolton job and he hasn’t done so well at our club. So he is on the other side of things at the moment, but that might not last forever. He could get his next job and do very well.”
Maloney returned to action for Wigan in April, playing seven times at the end of a season in which they lost to QPR in the play-off semi-finals and missed out on an immediate return to the top flight of English football. “Uwe Rosler came in to replace Owen and there has been a huge turnaround in our fortunes,” added the 31-year-old. “We weren’t good enough to get past QPR in the play-offs, which was fair, but the change under the new manager has been pretty colossal really.”
Maloney hopes to earn his 32nd Scotland cap in tomorrow night’s challenge match against Nigeria in London and is savouring his return to Gordon Strachan’s squad.
“It’s been quite a while, so I’m pretty enthusiastic about being back,” he said. “I’ve not really got too much fatigue going on at the minute, having only just started playing again, so I’m just happy to be here.
“The team have been brilliant recently, unbeaten in the last five games. There has been a pretty big turnaround in terms of results. When I was in the squad last time, you could sense a change in the belief of the players and that has carried on over the season. It’s certainly a tougher team to get into than when I was involved last time. The manager works quite hard on the shape of the team. A lot of the training is about tactical shape. The players who go out there all know their job. We have become a much harder team to beat.
“Every manager wants a certain structure within their team. There isn’t a player in our squad who is so good that he doesn’t need to work or track back within a structure. We don’t have anyone good enough to be a luxury player. Under this manager, you wouldn’t get to play for him like that anyway.
“It was obvious from early on under him that you have to work hard and understand your role. We are taught all week exactly what he wants from us and then it’s up to us to try and do it to win matches.”